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Dr. Langi Kavaliku died from a car accident

NUKU΄ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Dec. 8, 2008) - Dr. S. Langi Kavaliku (69), Tonga’s most outstanding scholar, a former Prime Minister, a former Cabinet member for 33 years, and newly appointed alternate chairman of Tonga’s Political Reform Commission died in an accident at about 8 a.m. on Wednesday, December 3, when his vehicle hit a mound of rocks that was left in the middle of a country road.

Deputy Police Commander Taniela Faletau told Matangi Tonga on Friday, December 5 that a vehicle that Dr. Kavaliku was driving went off a country road in the farming area of the village of Ha‘ateiho and hit a mango tree. He was alone at the time.

The road is newly built and several unmarked piles of coral rocks had been left in the middle of the road. (The piles looked like truckloads of extra fill dumped at intervals and were still unmarked four days after the accident).

Dr. Masaso Paunga, a son, said that a funeral date had not been confirmed, but it could be held on Friday, December 12.

Political Reform Commission

On November 26 Dr. Langi Kavaliku was selected by the Tongan Cabinet as the alternative Chairman for the Constitutional and Electoral Commission that was scheduled to start working on January 5, 2009, in structuring a new system of government for Tonga.

First Tongan at Harvard

Dr. Kavaliku was born on June 23, 1939 at Pangai, Ha‘apai. He attended Tonga High School from 1950 to 55, then went to the Putney School in Vermont, USA until 1957. He entered Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts and graduated in Honors with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1961. He was the first Tongan to enter Harvard University.

He continued his academic studies and entered Cambridge University where he was awarded a Masters in Arts degree in 1963, going on to complete his academic studies in Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand when he was awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy in Education degree in 1966 - the first Tongan to achieve a Ph.D.

Dr. Kavaliku entered the Tongan Civil Service in 1967 as a Probational Assistant Teacher with the Ministry of Education and in the same year he was appointed a Cabinet Minister without portfolio. He later became the Minister of Education for 30 years.

Dr. Kavaliku retired from the Tongan Cabinet on November 11, 2000, but during the 41 years when he was a member of the Tongan Cabinet he held many portfolios, including being the Prime Minister of Tonga for a period in 1999 following Baron Vaea, and serving until Prince ‘Ulukalala Lavaka Ata returned to Tonga. He was also Deputy Prime Minister for several years, and a Minister of Civil Aviation and Works.


Dr. Kavaliku distinguished himself in the region. He chaired the AIDAS/COLAdvisory committee for the Pacific in Sydney, Australia in 1989-1993, as well as being appointed a member of the South Pacific Council of Aviation Ministers in 1967. He was also a member of the Board of Directors of the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research (PICHTR) in Hawai‘i in 1988, and from 1980 to 92 he held the position of Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Conference, and its executive committee, at the East-West Center in Honolulu.

[PIR Editor’s note: The Pacific Islands Development Program, home of the Pacific Islands Report, is the Secretariat of the Pacific Islands Conference. Dr. Kavaliku served as the founding director of PIDP.]

After retiring from the Tongan civil service he continued to serve the South Pacific region as Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific. He was a member of the Board of Governors of The Commonwealth of Learning, representing the South Pacific for six years.

Dr. Kavaliku received the Honorary Fellow of the Commonwealth of Learning award in 2002 for his contribution to the welfare and education of the people of the South Pacific, and the greater Commonwealth; his conferment citation noting that ,

"Dr. Langi Kavaliku carries a giant-sized torch for two passions. The first is his enormous love of and for humanity and the second is the education of the people of the South Pacific, particularly."

Big heart

Recognizing Dr. Kavaliku as "this gentle person with such a big heart," the citation went on to say:

"As the Minister of Education of Tonga for 30 years, and Deputy Prime Minister for much of that time, he not only shaped the educational services of his country, but also helped influence the educational policies of the 11 other Commonwealth nations in the region with about six million people and hundreds of cultural and linguistic groups. Widely considered to be the most knowledgeable and respected person on matters of education, Langi Kavaliku’s voice resonated throughout the South Pacific. Through his involvement with UNESCO, Commonwealth and other international fora, he brought the world’s attention to the South Pacific and tirelessly appealed for the preservation of its values: the gentleness of the people, their pride in the diversity of their cultures."

Dr. Langi Kavaliku is survived by his wife Fuiva Kavaliku, and family of 38 children, 26 of them adopted and many grand-children.

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